July 29, 2021 10.39 am This story is over 34 months old

Lincoln council has no ‘easy hits’ to flush out savings, amid toilet controversy

Finances ‘squeezed until the pips squeak’

The City of Lincoln Council has run out of ‘easy hits’ for budget cuts, the leader has told a committee examining changes to toilet provision.

A scrutiny select committee on Wednesday night rejected a call-in on the controversial changes, the day after a 1,500 signature petition against the closure of Westgate loos was handed in to the authority.

Conservative Councillors Thomas Dyer, Christopher Reid and Mark Storer called for more detailed information on the decision, further consultation and for an equality and impact assessment to be carried out.

Responding to a question on whether funding could be found elsewhere, Councillor Ric Metcalfe reiterated the council had already made £8 million savings since 2010, and still had a further £1.75m to find over the next two years.

He said this had mostly been without affecting frontline services.

“We’ve been everywhere else – more than once, we’ve been everywhere, all over the council’s budget and continued to squeeze it literally until the pips squeak,” he said.

“We are in a position where we are absolutely desperate because this has been going on for so long.

“There are no easy hits left, absolutely none. We would not be sitting round this table tonight if there were.”

He said if there was movement in the budget, the authority would ‘not have done the dreadful deed’ of closing the Drill Hall.

“We’re not in a situation where we’ve got choices available to us, we’re going to have this conversation for the next year or two unless something fundamental changes and people are still going to sit around this table and ask ‘why can’t we find it from somewhere else?’.”

Councillor Metcalfe refused to say what the next cuts would be, how much they would be or where they would come from.

He said a suggestion a 20p charge could be introduced was too risky to take forward since it did not guarantee an income.

The committee was told the business case for the changes had been thorough, with consultation responses of around 800 reaching double the average 350 to 400, despite the COVID-19 pandemic.

Campaigners outside Westgate toilets. | Photo: Daniel Jaines

Councillor Metcalfe said if the council’s position changed, he would consider how to reopen public toilets.

He reiterated no-one wanted to see toilets close, and that if he were not a councillor he, and his colleagues, would have been joining campaigners.

An equality assessment had been carried out, the committee was told.

Councillor Thomas Dyer, introducing the call-in, said he believed the ‘full narrative’ of the decision had not been discussed and accused the consultation of ‘setting out to generate the answers it wanted’.

“As consultations go, this was far off what I’d expect to see for such an important topic and was not as well promoted as city council consultations,” he said.

He said the cluster of toilets around Tentercroft Street, the bus station and Central Market was disproportionate to those around the uphill area.

The committee voted against the call-in with the poll pitting the two Labour and two Conservative members against each other and the tie broken by Labour chairman Bill Bilton.